Humpback whales have a clever way of catching prey. They don't have thumbs to sit around weaving fishing nets with, so they use what they've got: bubbles from their blowholes.
A team led by researchers at the University of Hawaii at Manoa captured spectacular footage of humpback whales using a technique called bubble-net fishing in the waters near Alaska. The whales were packing on the pounds before heading to Hawaii to breed.
Bubble-net fishing involves a group of whales near the ocean surface rounding up fish or krill inside a circle of bubbles exhaled from their blowholes. As the whales rise toward the surface, they corral the fish in the bubble net. It's a cooperative behavior that results in a good meal for the participants.
The team used drones to capture the view from above. Cameras and sensors attached to the whales by suction cups gathered video and data from the whale's point of view. Put the two together and you get an incredibly detailed look at this fascinating feeding behavior.
Lars Bejder, director of the university's Marine Mammal Research Program, called the footage "groundbreaking."
"We're observing how these animals are manipulating their prey and preparing the prey for capture. It is allowing us to gain new insights that we really haven't been able to do before," he said in a release on Sunday.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has noted a drop in the number of humpback whale sightings around Hawaii in recent years. The Marine Mammal Research Program is looking into what might be causing a possible decline in the population. Scientists are concerned about the impact of climate change and a loss of food resources.
We can't just call on the crew of the USS Enterprise like in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home to save the whales. We have to start with gathering solid data on their feeding habits and changes in habitat. This video footage is both beautiful and useful as scientists work to understand what's happening with these magnificent animals.